Evidence of Exceptional Stuff or “How Many People Saw Elvis Alive After He Died?”

Peter and Paul (Roman School circa 1620)

I’ve been listening to a lot of responses to Christian apologetic arguments. I like the people who create these but there is something that bothers me. They tend to demand the same level of evidence for normal matters as they do exceptional matters.

Peter and Paul

Think about the two (reasonably) well-documented post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. (These are well-documented in the Bible; they aren’t documented anywhere else. So we are starting on very favorable ground for the apologists.) Paulogia, for example, responds that one was clearly a vision (Paul) and the other (Peter) could well have been a post-bereavement hallucination.

Fair enough. But suppose you could find some well-documented source stating that all the disciples saw Jesus risen from the dead. Should we believe this?

I would certainly accept that kind of evidence if the claim were something simple, “Jesus walked 150 miles in 5 days.” Okay. That’s a lot but it is certainly plausible. I know that I could do that and that some people can run 150 miles in a day.

I’d need more than that if the claim were, “Jesus flew 150 miles in 5 days.” And that claim is far more reasonable than that Jesus died and came back to life three days later!

Motivated Reasoning

There’s another issue. Peter had an enormous amount to gain from claiming that Jesus had risen from the grave. So did Paul!

But I understand that there is a social aspect of apologist-skeptic dialog. The skeptics don’t want to be seen as dicks. They don’t want to claim that the founders of the Christian religion were charlatans.

The problem with this is that we have so many examples of modern cults starting in exactly this way. It isn’t as simple as people lying. As Upton Sinclair put it, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

All I’m saying is that it’s easy to convince yourself that you saw Jesus after he died when saying it is paying the bills and getting you invited to all the best suppers.

Or they could have been lying. They could have simply thought that Jesus’ teachings we so important that it made sense to fabricate the resurrection narrative. (Paulogia has suggested just that.)

Did Paul Really Persecute Christians?

One thing I’ve never seen contested is Paul’s claims that he worked for the Romans persecuting Christians before being converted. It isn’t attested to anywhere else. It’s just his claim.

Should we believe him? I doubt it.

I have seen many Christians tell exaggerated or outright false things about their pre-Christian days. Think about Mike Warnke who made a career claiming that he was a Satan Seller.

But he isn’t the only one. I’ve personally known two people who claimed they worshipped Satan when they were younger. It’s nonsense. If there were as many reformed Satanists as claimed, they’d have to be using my office at least part of the time for their orgies and goat sacrifices.

Paul’s story of his past sounds to me very much like stagecraft — a good tool to use to win converts. (And power. Just saying.)

Cults Then and Now

Everything we know about modern cults tells us that they are driven by the desire for power and grown through lies. I really can’t imagine the earliest days of Christianity being all that different from the early days of Heaven’s Gate. And even with the mass suicide, there are still believers in that cult.

Why would we think things would be more reasonable two thousand years ago?

Image via GaryStockbridge617. It is in the public domain.

Exponential Misuse of Pascal’s Wager by Apologetics Squared

Blaise Pascal

Recently, I’ve been seeing a lot more use of Pascal’s Wager by Christians. I’m not sure what’s up with that given that I thought that long ago everyone had agreed that it was stupid if not blasphemous. Oh well. It’s not like being let down by religious people is a new thing to me.

For those who don’t know, Pascal’s Wager is a philosophical argument for believing in God. Basically, it says you get little from not believing in God and infinite happiness if you do believe in God so you should believe in God. Some formulations of the argument are more sophisticated than others but this is what they all come down to.

Criticisms of Pascal’s Wager

There are lots of criticisms of this argument. The most obvious is that it assumes a god that cares that you believe in it and will reward you for this. But personally, I find a religious argument more compelling: Do you seriously think you can con God?! That God won’t notice that you are only “believing” because you ran the odds?!

Imagine if you took this approach in proposing to your significant other: “You aren’t even close to what I most desire but I’ve run the numbers and based on the fact that I’m ugly with few prospects, I’ve determined you are the best I can do. Will you marry me?!” I don’t think that would get a verbal answer — more likely a kick in the teeth.

Apologetics Squared

But then I saw this video by Apologetics Squared. It is by a young guy who, in a spiritual sense, “Knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.” Of course, even with it, he plays fast and loose with the concept of infinity. Remember: Infinity is not a number! You need to be really careful with it.

What strikes me about the use that young Mr Squared makes of Pascal’s Wager is that he does a pretty good job with the formal logic but pays no attention to his premises. Basically, there’s no downside to believing in God and a huge upside.

But wait. For every god you can imagine that will reward you for believing in it, there is at least one god that will damn you to Hell for eternity and who will reward you with Infinity Constant Orgasm Time simply for not believing in that other god.

So if you want to go there, the odds seem to indicate that belief in Christianity is a bad bet. So it really comes down to, again, what you actually believe in. That is to say: Pascal’s Wager is bullshit.


Apologetics Squared is a classic subgenius: smart but not that smart. The truth is, there is a whole field of mathematics that deals with low-probability events. I don’t know much about it. In my years of study, I’ve come upon it a few times. But it’s clear that Mr to the Second Power knows nothing at all about it.

As a result, Christian apologists like him are better off studying their own faith rather than trying to make clever arguments against atheists. And please, can’t we bury Pascal’s Wager once and for all. Non-believers think it is a stupid argument. And believers should find it repellant.

I have a hunch that Christians who use Pascal’s Wager aren’t really that serious about their faith. But given my experience is that few Christians of any stripe are serious about their faith, this is hardly surprising.

Cropped from Blaise Pascal a copy of the painting of François II Quesnel under CC BY 3.0.

Advocates for “The Unborn”

Dave Barnhart

“The unborn” are a convenient group of people to advocate for. They never make demands of you; they are morally uncomplicated, unlike the incarcerated, addicted, or the chronically poor; they don’t resent your condescension or complain that you are not politically correct; unlike widows, they don’t ask you to question patriarchy; unlike orphans, they don’t need money, education, or childcare; unlike aliens, they don’t bring all that racial, cultural, and religious baggage that you dislike; they allow you to feel good about yourself without any work at creating or maintaining relationships; and when they are born, you can forget about them, because they cease to be unborn. It’s almost as if, by being born, they have died to you. You can love the unborn and advocate for them without substantially challenging your own wealth, power, or privilege, without re-imagining social structures, apologizing, or making reparations to anyone. They are, in short, the perfect people to love if you want to claim you love Jesus but actually dislike people who breathe. Prisoners? Immigrants? The sick? The poor? Widows? Orphans? All the groups that are specifically mentioned in the Bible? They all get thrown under the bus for the unborn.

Pastor Dave Barnhart

Image taken from Saint Junia United Methodist Church under Fair Use. Their website says, “A community of sinners, saints & skeptics,” which is pretty cool! I saw the quote above in graphics form on Twitter and knew that I had to share it. -FM

Letters From Jehovah’s Witnesses

I’ll try to post something later. I’m super busy at the moment so I don’t have time for a regular article.

But I got a letter posted to my business partner, William, at our business address. It had handwriting on the envelope. I opened it to see if there was a check inside. There wasn’t.

But there was a handwritten letter. It was in rather bad cursive and I couldn’t easily read it. So I contacted Will and rather than come over, he had me read it to him, which I did with some effort.

Jehovah's Witnesses Letter

Jehovah’s Witnesses COVID-19 Waste

Will figured it out long before I did. In fact, he might have known from the start. The letter says it is from one of his neighbors, Janell, and that if he is looking for meaning in this crazy world, he is in luck! It ends by mentioning that there is a website that will answer all the big questions like:

What is the purpose of life and many more answers [to] the questions that you can ask and search out. Something for everyone including cartoons for the little one. The website is J.W.Org [sic] and I hope you will take time to check it out.

It’s clear that this is a pre-written letter. So the Jehovah’s Witnesses are now limited in terms of going door-to-door. So they are having their members sit at home and hand-write these things. And they are apparently going to people in databases because I can’t imagine how else this letter would have found its way to our business address.

Will tells me this is nothing new. The church has people do this who can’t normally go door-to-door. So even if you are confined at home, the Jehovah’s Witnesses have a way for your to waste your time annoying the wider world!

Witnessing Is Nonsense

Many years ago, I read an article by Bible scholar Robert M Price about this idea that all Christians should be out witnessing to the rest of us. He argued that the books that make up the Bible were meant for the priest class. So when the Bible talks about witnessing, it means the priests, not the ordinary followers.

I think it is horrible that any group does this. And it is only because we are all extra gentle to religious people that we don’t meet them on the porch with our guns. What they are doing is not just useless; it is rude.

It also involves child abuse. They always use the “little ones” because they are great calling cards.

Truly, I say to you: any church that must depend upon indoctrinating children worships a false god.

The only thing that is good about the Jehovah’s Witnesses is that they don’t vote. I assure you, if they did, they would be all-in for Donald Trump.

Rod Dreher: Serious Christian Thinker and Homophobe

Rod DreherEzra Klein’s most recent interview sounded really interesting, “Rod Dreher on America’s post-Christian culture war.” Dreher is a writer for The American Conservative — a journal I have a fairly high opinion of. And at first, I was onboard for what he had to say. Dreher talked about something that’s important to me: that most religious people are facile and don’t take their beliefs seriously. But then he talked about his own political beliefs and they were not impressive.

Rod Dreher Cares About Poverty — Sometimes

Klein asked Dreher the classic question: why the focus on sexual matters and so little on, say, poverty. As Klein noted, sexual matters don’t hurt anyone but poverty does. Dreher went on to explain why sex was so important to people like him who think it is a good idea to base their morality on an ancient religious text and tradition. But before he got to that, he said that he felt that Christians should talk more about poverty.

But the question is not why that amorphous group of facile Christians focus on sexual matters; it is why the Very Serious Christian Rod Dreher does. Because looking at his writing he doesn’t seem that concerned about starving children. Like unserious Christians, he is most concerned about the brave martyrs forced to bake a cake for a same-sex couple.

Rod Dreher Persecuted by LGBT ActivistsSaint Sebastian! You knew nothing of pain! American Christians might someday not be able to fire employees for being gay!

It’s Not Homophobia — It’s Religion!

Ezra Klein pushed Dreher many times on why his homophobia is okay when racism is not. (He didn’t put it in such a coarse way, of course.) Dreher has a theological argument for why there is a difference. But I don’t see how it matters.

If things were switched and now homophobia were something no respectable person would admit to but racism were, a racist Christian could now make a theological argument for why homophobia was un-Christian but racism was not.

Rod Dreher’s argument comes down to this: because he has a Biblical rationalization for his beliefs they aren’t bigotry; they are just his faith. I don’t see how this helps him. Racists have reasons for their beliefs too. That’s what all the conservative obsession with IQ tests is about.

Rod Dreher: Alarmist

He’s also an alarmist. Ezra Klein explicitly stayed away from this because he didn’t want to have a debate and wanted to share Dreher’s thoughts that were worth listening to. I’m not sure any of them are. Dreher really isn’t a serious thinker.

Here is some of the “evidence” that Rod Dreher presented for how the secular society is destroying Christians and why he writes so much about religious liberty (and by extension, so little about child poverty):

“We’re being made to care!” That’s Erick Erickson’s line. You can’t ignore it when the freedom of your religious school is put at risk by lawsuits by the advance of gay rights… I’ll tell you a story here. A pastor here in Baton Rouge here where I live, which is pretty much deep Trumplandia, came to me and said that a woman came to him and his congregation and said, “I need your help here. My middle-school daughter has come home and said that she thinks she’s a boy. And I went to the [public school guidance counselor] and asked what was going on with my daughter and she told me quite firmly, ‘You had better accept your son how he is.'” This is a huge thing.

There are a couple of things worth noting here. First, the guy is quoting Erick Erickson. I’m surprised that any thoughtful person would associate with Erickson. While it is true that Erickson was once a never-Trumper, like most he eventually supported Trump (after seeing that Trump was just a typical bigot-Republican and thus of no threat to the status quo).

God Wants Anecdotal Evidence

The main thing to notice is that this is a three-level story. Are we really to believe that the counselor said “quite firmly” given it came through two men who would just assume it? Plus, this woman wasn’t even a member of this church! (What are the odds that she has a religious reason for her concern?) Is she credible? She might just be some crazy person.

It sounds like the kind of case that the church would have made a big deal about had the woman been credible. Yet I haven’t found any news stories about it.

I would think that anyone who really thought that Christians were being oppressed would look for actual data. But of course, Rod Dreher doesn’t look for actual evidence. He don’t need no stinking evidence. He feels that Christians are being oppressed and those are the only (Ben Shapiro-approved) facts he needs!

We Have to Create a Better World

Richard Carrier - We Have to Create a Better WorldChristianity is simply false.

But what do we do then? What do we believe? … Since this world isn’t the way we’d want it to be, we have to make it the way we want it to be. This world isn’t protected by any supreme justice or caregiver, there is no infallible wise man to turn to, no divine hero to love us, and we aren’t going to live forever. So we have to create those things.

We have to create justice, and care for each other and the world we live in. We have to find and give and receive love from each other. We have to be the hero. We have to give our lives meaning. We have to protect life, and invent technologies of immortality — metaphorically (in the way people’s words and actions live on in their consequences and memorials), and literally (through medicine, and the science of life extension and resurrection). And until we invent any real immortality, we have to accept the way things are and make the best of the short lives we have. We have to love life rather than fear death. We have to respect life rather than treat it as disposable.

We have to do all of these things. Because that is the world we want to live in — and no one else is going to do any of this for us.

–Richard Carrier
Why I Am Not a Christian

Human Thought in a Dark Room

I’m sure that many of my readers will like this little meme. But to me, it shows such total contempt for the search of knowledge that it makes me really angry. And I don’t know that I have seen a more clear example of the way that much of the atheist community deifies science.

I am, as most of you know, trained as a scientist. I have a PhD in physics. And maybe the fact that I don’t work in the field shows that I have a fundamentally different orientation. But that isn’t my experience. Most scientists I know don’t make a fetish of it. Science is to them what it is to me: a really powerful tool for learning new things of a very specific nature. And that’s it.

A Million Dollars

The whole meme reminds me of my favorite line from Citizen Kane. Bernstein scoffs at Thatcher, Kane’s guardian. The reporter says, “He made an awful lot of money.” And Bernstein replies, “Well, it’s no trick to make a lot of money — if all you want is to make a lot of money.”

The meme presents four ways of gaining knowledge. But the test is rigged. It’s defining knowledge as the kind of knowledge that science excels at. But I’ll come back to that. My point is that people who put these kind of memes together so want to limit the human experience. As Bernstein said in the script (cut from the film), “He [Thatcher] never knew there was anything in the world but money.”


According to the meme, “Philosophy is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat.” So it’s a way to learn things, but a really bad one.

There are a number of things wrong with this. For one, the search for knowledge isn’t as categorical as this makes out. Work by Kant and Schopenhauer laid intellectual groundwork for Darwin’s discovery. But most people have an extremely childish view of how science actually works.

Perhaps most annoying to me is that math is a branch of philosophy, not science. People get caught up in counting, and think that it is real and thus “Science!” But giving names to quantities is not math. It’s like claiming that knowing the names of different bacteria makes you a microbiologist. It’s so silly.


The meme claims, “Metaphysics is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat that isn’t there.” Apparently, the writer doesn’t know what the word “metaphysics” means. From Merriam-Webster, metaphysics is “a division of philosophy that is concerned with the fundamental nature of reality and being and that includes ontology, cosmology, and often epistemology.” That’s right: it really doesn’t have anything to do with Edwardian mysticism.

The cosmology part of this is amusing. Most people think of this as part of science. And it is! In a limited form. But every time I hear some subgenius go on about how cosmology is settled because of the big bang, I think they sound like fundamentalists. Science said it, I believe it, that settles it. Not really.

Don’t get me wrong, the big bang is as established as natural selection. But most people do not find it a satisfying cosmological answer for the same reason they don’t find “God” a satisfying answer. It just raises another question. And that’s fine! But ultimately, cosmology is a metaphysical issue because science isn’t designed to find ultimate answers.


The meme continues, “Theology is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat that isn’t there, and shouting, ‘I found it!'” This is probably the most offensive part of the whole thing.

The implication is that theology is the most rigid form of religious belief. It isn’t even religious belief, much less of the “God said it, I believe it, that settles it” variety. There have been many theologians who were atheists and agnostics. It’s only quite recent in the US that theology departments are overrun by theists.

And this part of the meme begs the question. Of course, the point of such simple-minded memes is to preach to the choir. No Christian is going to read it and think, “I’ve been so wrong! I’m an atheist now!”


And so we come to the end of the meme, “Science is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat using a fucking flashlight.” It’s only at this point in the meme that I wondered, “Why are we looking for a black cat in a dark room?”

I’m not an idiot; I get that it’s an analogy. But as I indicated above, this is a rigged analogy. It all falls apart if you change it to being in a dark room looking for a reason not to kill yourself. Science isn’t all that helpful in gaining that kind of knowledge.

But it’s worse than that, because the example just begs to be criticized on quantum mechanical terms. Once you turn on the flashlight, it isn’t a dark room so you literally can’t find the black cat in a dark room. Consider it on more practical grounds. What if turning on the flashlight caused the black cat to run out of the room before your eyes adjusted?

I suppose I shouldn’t really complain because the kind of people who write these things have a really limited understanding of science — and pretty much everything else. But geez!

Tribalism in Meme Form

This is all about tribalism. You can love and respect science without dismissing other ways of knowing. And it really disturbs me that this is the default position of the New Atheism. It never really bothered me that theists were tribal and awful. But I thought that humans could — if they opened their minds — be more accepting of others. But no. It’s just another “I know the One True Way” of experiencing the world. This is why we will always fight wars.

The Great Snake Oil Sermon

Snake Oil SermonYesterday, we had a service for my brother Eric “Randy” Shultz, who died on 21 December 2016 at the age of 59. We did it at his conservative Baptist church. And I thought it was perfect — for Eric. It actually annoyed me a great deal. But before I get to the Snake Oil aspect of the whole thing, let me tell you something a bit more personal about the Good Christians™ who spoke at the service.

They all made a point of telling this story about how Eric had told them on first meeting them, “My friends call me Randy, you can call me Eric.” And then after they got to know him, they could call him Randy. But here’s the thing: that wasn’t really true. Everyone really crying at the service called him Eric. Whether you called him Eric or Randy depended on when you met him.

Eric vs Randy

When the first person brought up this “his true friends and family called him Randy” nonsense, it caused a slight stir in the church because his caregiver (and really, effectively his mother the last decade of his life), my younger sister, and I had already spoken with great emotion while referring to him as Eric. I got the impression that the man who first said it realized that he had blown it. But then two other people told the same story. Not one of these pretenders showed a hint of any emotion.

I am very often struck at just how callous Christians are. They’ve found their entry into heaven so they don’t really have to give much of a damn about other people. Oh, they’re nice enough. When I talk to them, they treat me the same way I would a terrorist at the birthday party of their child. There’s really only one way that they “care” about others and that is to get them to buy into the bankrupt spirituality of easy redemption. And need I remind everyone that this would been seen as sacrilegious by the early Christians who didn’t actually believe in the “one weird trick” to get into heaven.

The Sermon

And that leads us to the sermon that the pastor gave. By the standards of these things, it wasn’t that bad. For one thing, it was only about 20 minutes long. And there was a fair amount about Eric in it. But all the Bible quotes were from the Book of Revelation. I’m not fond of that book. You will note when I wrote about my brother, I culled from Matthew — about the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the gentle, and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Those are the things that sum up Eric. So why Revelation?

Well, part of it is the whole “salvation on the cheap” that I so hate about most modern Christianity: Eric is with God, just as Hitler is now if he let Christ into his soul in that bunker. But mostly, it was all a big sales pitch. Pastors know that most people who go to funeral and wedding[1] ceremonies are not Christians, so it’s a great opportunity to make the sales pitch. “Today I’m offering you such a deal: just “believe” and Tinker Bell will give you everlasting life!”

I don’t need to be sold on the concept that Eric is a better place. His life was painful. Death is the absence of pain except in the minds of evil theists who think that not “believing” means you will be tortured for eternity. And I don’t like the fact that Christians use these mournful occasions as sales opportunities. I especially don’t like it when I know that I’m expected to make a pretty sizable donation.

As the sermon went on, I kept adjusting the amount of money I was going to give. But in the end, I gave the amount I had decided to give at the beginning. That’s because it was a sermon and service that Eric would have liked. And ultimately, it wasn’t about me. But I couldn’t wait to get out of there. I should have been medicated.

Afterword: Ignorant People

At one point during the sermon, the pastor said, “Most people think that AD stands for ‘After Death,’ but it actually stands for…” And my younger sister and I said, in unison, “Anno Domini.” That is Latin for “year of our lord.” And after the service I heard some people talking about how interesting that was. It boggles my mind. Even at 8 years old (when I independently came up with the “After Death” idea), I understood that it would leave about 30 years that are in this no man’s that no one ever talked about. No one ever said, “Oh, that happened in 12 DL.”

Am I a sinner? Sure. But I’d rather be an arrogant bastard than a simpering idiot.

[1] As Rick says, “Weddings are funerals with cake.”

The Dying Dragon

Reverend James GertmenianIn my closing minutes, I want to address a few, more focused words to those in our congregation who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered — and to your family members and friends.

A number of you have written or spoken to me in the last few days to say how dismayed you were to see amendments against gay marriage and, in some cases, even gay civil rights, being passed by large margins in eleven states. Some of you spoke of feeling frightened, imagining, as well you might, that a new wave of hatred and fear is about to wash over you. You feel betrayed by a country that promised to value every human being equally… and perhaps even more damaging, you feel betrayed by representatives of a religion that claims love as its foundational value.

I understand your fear. Many of us here at Plymouth do.

But I want to remind you that this spasm of hatred is the lashing out of a dying dragon. This dragon, homophobia, is angry because it is dying. And it is frightened because it is dying. And in its anger and its fear it may even seem stronger than it really is. But it is dying. What is being born is the love of God which will show forth in a time in which your God-given value will be recognized by all.

In the meantime, though, I want you to know this: whatever happens anywhere else, in this place, and in this family, you need not be afraid. Even if every state in the union were to pass an amendment, these walls stand to protect you. This is a sanctuary where your lives will be celebrated, and your loves blessed, and your relationships honored. And from this place we will go out and fight together for human rights for all. That is a solemn covenant which we here make with one another. And woe to this church if it should ever break that covenant, for in so doing it will have broken its own heart.

–Reverend James Gertmenian
Quoted in Words Escape Me

Amanda Glaze on Evolution and the Nature of Science

Amanda GlazeResearch shows that people in the South are 84 percent less likely than their counterparts in other parts of the country to learn about evolution, or to learn about it in a way that is accurate. Similarly, studies such as my quant study in preservice teachers and Laura Rissler’s study of undergrads in Alabama show that religiosity is a strong negative factor that impacts acceptance of evolution.

When looking at other studies in the United States, mostly done in places in the Northeast (Indiana, New York), the levels of acceptance are quite low overall. However, the South boasts a population that is more closely aligned with the literal interpretation of Genesis (including creationism and Young Earth Creationism) that many cite as their reason for rejecting evolution. It also tends to show a higher impact of religious beliefs as a predictor of acceptance or rejection of evolution compared to other locations…

What bothers me is the lack of understanding about what science actually does.

Science doesn’t consider God as a possible answer to any question whatsoever because God is a metaphysical construct and thus not part of the physical world. And science by definition cannot consider anything metaphysical or supernatural as an explanation.

Science is not out there trying to disprove the existence of God — we can’t even consider that.

I really don’t care what people believe as long as they understand the science.

—Amanda Glaze
Teaching Evolution in the South: an Educator on the “War for Science Literacy”

Why Conservative Christians Support Trump

Jesus Weeping - Conservative ChristiansI was really struck by a line in David Cay Johnston’s excellent The Making of Donald Trump, “Trump says he does not see any reason to seek divine forgiveness because he has done nothing wrong in his entire life, an oft-made observation so at odds with the most basic teachings of Jesus that I am at a loss to explain any religious leader embracing him.”

I understand: one of the most basic tenets of Christianity is Original Sin. So Trump calling himself a Christian should be offensive to any Christian who takes their religion seriously. But add to that a man like Trump who so clearly has sinned again God, and it makes you want to bang you head against a wall. Still, I think I can explain: religion is politics.

Earlier today, I was looking at the FiveThirtyEight polls-plus forecast for the 2016 presidential election. Trump has a 99.3 percent chance of winning Utah. I understand: Utah is a red state and you may think it is no big deal. But back in March, there was a whole lot of reporting like Kira Lerner’s Mormons Detest Donald Trump. It wasn’t alone in reporting this idea:

Mormons also have a deep memory of religious persecution, and Trump’s Islamophobia, bigotry, and rejection of Muslims is “certainly something Mormons find distasteful,” [Matt] Bowman told ThinkProgress.

Professor Bowman also said, “Trump, both in his private life and his public persona — his crassness, his affairs — all of that kind of thing offends Mormon sensibilities.”

Mormon’s Love Trump!

Real Clear Politics, however, has Trump leading Clinton by 14.7 percentage points.

I used to use the term “cultural Christian” as a pejorative. But I now tend to think that all religious (and areligious and anti-religious) belief is merely tribal signaling.

Let’s contrast Trump to Clinton for a moment. She may be something of a hawk, but she certainly isn’t a demagogue who will persecute religious minorities. She certainly seems to have lived a socially conservative life. And despite what most people seem to think, Clinton is actually quite religious — a lifetime member of the United Methodist Church.

But the Mormons of Utah aren’t swayed by this, just as conservative Christians elsewhere aren’t. And I think they are right not to be so. Because their religion isn’t about Kolob or magic underpants or any of the other silly things that Mormons are rightfully known for. As much as I may look up into the night sky a marvel at existence, that just isn’t what religion is for the vast majority of people. For them, religion is social. And that means that it is political.

Religion Is Politics

So when a Catholic takes Communion, they don’t actually believe that the little wafer literally turns into the the body of Jesus — even if they tell you that they do. They are just making a public statement, “This is who I am in the society of which I am part.” And this is why American protestants went from not caring about abortion in 1970 to caring about little else in 1980.

This is a fact that we liberals — especially of my generation — miss when it comes to religion. We think of Jesus as the Prince of Peace and have a very hippy conception of the man. But that’s just one Jesus. It’s one I like: guy who didn’t care about hygiene, hung out with the dregs of society, and stood for the poor. But for conservative Christians, Jesus is more like Rambo, coming back to kick some ass.

Conservative Christians Should Love Trump

So we can’t claim that our own Jesus (Especially people like me who aren’t believers anyway!) is right and that others’ are wrong. None of it matters. I used to use the term “cultural Christian” as a pejorative. But I now tend to think that all religious (and areligious and anti-religious) belief is merely tribal signaling.

Donald Trump will cut taxes on the rich. Donald Trump will make it harder to get an abortion. Donald Trump will deregulate. These are the reasons that Mormons and other conservative Christians will vote for him. Religion is politics. And it always was. Jesus said, “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.” I believe modern conservative Christians are working the opposite side, “Blessed are the powerful, for they shall inherit the earth.” I think they are wrong. In fact, I think they are evil. But I think they are quite right to support Donald Trump.

Silly and Stupid Atheist Challenge

PZ Myers - Atheist ChallengeChristopher Hitchens offered up an atheist challenge to religious believers: name one moral act that is excluded from the atheist population. Well, that’s a silly challenge. Even brain damaged Biblical literalists understand that atheists can be good people. What is the purpose of this challenge but to get into the gutter with the most vile of apologetics of the cultural Christians? Nothing obviously. And this is a big part of my problem with the modern atheist community. Are we really going to be just like them? Are we really going to show that our understanding of their culture is as vapid as theirs is of ours?

But I was listening to a lecture that PZ Myers gave back in 2010, Science vs Religion: How Faith Makes Us Wrong. And he ended it with his own atheist challenge: name one example where religion has provided us with a novel insight about the natural world. I actually like PZ Myers, but his atheist challenge is beyond silly. It’s just stupid.

How about a theist challenge: name one example where science has provided us with a novel insight about theology. Religion is not in the business of coming up with insights about the natural world. It serves a sociological purpose. Asking it for insights about nature is like asking Dancing with the Stars for insights about nature. It’s absurd.

Who Cares About the Atheist Challenge?

I say all this as someone who doesn’t think that religion adds much to society. Human experience is so varied that what we once got from religion we can now get in countless other ways. The one thing that religion could provide us is some kind of social cohesion. But given that most people still follow ancient religions, we don’t get that. In fact, we get rather the opposite. But there are trends toward a shared spiritual sense. And I do think that humans are likely reach some kind of shared insight. But it will be no thanks to the atheist community that acts every bit as tribal and intolerant as the the theistic fundamentalists.

Myers brought up a tired old atheist complaint: why didn’t God tell the people to wash their hands?! Oh my God! Jesus said it wasn’t necessary to wash your hands! He must not be God! Well, as I would have said when I was ten: duh! What do people like PZ Myers think the Bible is, anyway? It’s just a bunch of folk tales and the results of sectional fighting about how the Jewish and (later) Christian communities should be. It was, in that way, no different than the Iliad was for the Greeks.

The problem with so many atheist complaints — and totally on display in the atheist challenge — is that they are committing the straw man fallacy. Most people think of this only in terms of the individual. There are theists who make stupid arguments and 99% of the time spent by professional atheists is used to refute these arguments. So we get the atheist challenge to show that atheists can be moral. And we get the atheist challenge that religion should provide scientific insights. These do not address the best arguments theists make. It’s unbelievable that atheists act this way.

Saving Atheism From Itself

And before my atheist friends get all upset that I am yet again complaining about the atheist community, consider this: it’s embarrassing. We atheists are supposed to be the smart ones. We’re supposed to be the open-minded ones. But instead, we’re just like them. We’re more interested in winning people to our side than in looking for the truth. The fact that I still complain shows my commitment. But I have to admit, it is failing me. More and more, I see the atheist community as bankrupt and irredeemable.